Late afternoon Friday is supposed to be the apex of the week. Sure, sure, nothing like a Saturday night to be hot hot hot, fun fun fun, wild wild wild. Saturday night is the week's orgasm, but isn't the ecstasy of sex all in the build-up, the anticipatory thrill? What's best about Christmas, sitting around in the glut of torn wrappings next to a dying tree, or the visions of the night before, the glamorous pine growing from the mound of brightly clad packages? Everyone thanks god for the arrival of Friday. It's an expression, the expression has turned to cliché, the cliché's become an acronym; hell, the acronym has been appropriated and trademarked by a national franchise of good-time restaurants.
I slogged home from work in a sour mood. I had a huge headache. It felt cold enough to snow, but the frigid drizzle just laughed at the notion of wind chill factor. I'd spent another ugly day prostituting my graphic talents to sell local second-rate products to my fellow denizens of a third-rate city. And I was going home to my apartment that--need I say more--was wall-to- wall with not particularly plush beige carpeting. A beige charmed with stains not of my own doing, predating my tenancy.
As well, my dance card for the weekend had been erased clean. My girlfriend had called me at work right after lunch to announce she couldn't see me at all this weekend.
"Okay," I'd sucked in my breath, "though perhaps I deserve an explanation of why not."
"Because! I have to wash my hair." I could just see her give that cute pageboy a shake like she had a headful of tresses.
I'd sat there stunned, surrounded by silence, curious as to why I happened to be holding a plastic bone to the side of my head. "Oh? What? They haven't invented blow dryers yet?"
"HUH!! Blow jobs! That's all you ever talk about! Blow jobs, that's all you ever think about!"
I knew enough to duck away from the slamming of her receiver.
Well, sure, I thought about blow jobs fairly often. But I'd mentioned them only twice in her presence. The first time was soon after we'd become a couple, just as a hint that it might be sort of nice. She'd been aghast. "What?! How can you even think about asking me to put my mouth down there??!!!" About a month ago--a year and a half later--I'd brought it up again in the context of, well, because you always insist that I put my mouth down there on you.
The best thing to come out of the day was that by the time I got home I'd finally realized that my relationship sucked. That made me a little chipper. I took her number off my speed dialer, knowing I'd never remember it on my own. I could scarcely wait for her to either never call either, or to call... and then I'd... I'd, well, I'd say... well, I'd say something!
The phone rang and I jumped. Luckily I held my tongue when I answered. "Hello?"
"It's me, Miriam, you dummy."
"As in, Miriam, your everlovin' sister."
"Oh, I know. I'm sorry Mir. I'm just not Mr. Zest right now. It's been an ugly day, and I'm fitting right in."
"Really? Gorgeous day here, and--ahem!--need I say more?"
"God! Who died and crowned you Queen Ego? You been baking your brains out on the beach again?"
"When in California, do as the Californians do. So what's up? Just thought I'd call. What's wrong? Life beating up on you?"
"Life's beating off on me. Geez, you really want to hear the tirade?"
"No, but that's never stopped you before. I'll jump you to the punch. Let's see, rustle rustle-- I've got it written down here somewhere--okay, yea, that's right: your life sucks, your city sucks, your weather sucks, your job sucks, your apartment sucks, the beige carpeting in your apartment really sucks. That about covers it. Anything in your life that doesn't suck?"
"Well, yea, my girlfriend."
"Well, that's a plus I suppose."
"No, what I mean is... "
"Samuel! For shame! You're not still dating that bitch, are you? Ms. Make-me-come-all- over-your-face-and-then-you-can-go-home-now?"
"Geez, Miriam! Is you memory that good or do you really take notes? Or did we have this exact conversation last week?"
Her end erupted in laughter. The sound cheered my heart. "Oh baby, I'm not laughing at you... "
"Why not? I would!"
The gales blew again. "Oh you funny funny boy, you really missed your calling."
"Well, you know me. Every time opportunity calls I'm in the shower with a headful of shampoo--ring-ring, oh fuck you, call back later."
"Oh stop it! stop it! Seriously, are you at least getting some good painting done?"
"What do you think? Very little."
"Liar! Not at all."
"Yea, months and months adding up to years. No time, no energy, no money, no inspiration, no space, no supplies."
"You bastard! You are squandering your talents."
"Okay, already! You rest your case. And I don't want to talk about it. Leave it alone, or I'll hang up. I'm serious, Miriam. It's barely a manageable sorrow as it is. Okay?"
"I'm sorry Sammy. Okay? Forgive? I'll quit prodding. Oh yea, what I was calling about. So what are you doing for Christmas."
"The usual. Pretend the oven's a fireplace and hang up a dirty sock. In the morning hang around and count my lumps of coal. Organize my switches in ascending order according to length, though this year I was thinking of doing something extra special, maybe subdividing them with regards to width. What do you think?"
"I think you should come out here and spend Christmas with me. After all, we're all the family we have."
"Oh, I don't know. I mean, thanks for the invite."
"Please, Sammy, oh please? It'd mean so much to me."
"Well, I mean I probably couldn't get any extra time off work or anything."
"That's okay, a short visit would be better than none. It's Manifest Destiny. Everything sucks there, so go West, young man. Will you at least think about it? It'd be so great to get to see you again."
"Sure, Mir. Let me get back to you on it, okay?"
"Wonderful! I do miss you so much, you know that, don't you?"
"Flipside of the same coin, hon."
"Oh damn! Shut up! Not you Sam! Listen, I'm sorry but I have to run. Asshole producers pounding on the door. Let me know as soon as possible, alright? God, already I'm getting so excited."
"Okey-dokey, Mir, talk to you later."
Well, at least the weekend was somewhat salvaged. Talking to Miriam always brightened my life for a couple of days. She really was the closest thing I had to a best friend. Which spoke sad volumes considering she lived several thousands miles away, and we hadn't seen each other in years. Not only was she one of the few people I'd ever known who made any sense to me, she was about the only person who could make any sense of me.
Dad had been cast from the old work-hard/play-hard diehard mold. A steak-and-martinis-at- lunch kind of guy. A massive-coronary-at-fifty sort of man. Mom got over the loss and had five fun years as the merry widow before she turned into one of those people who makes the fatal error of proceeding through the intersection on the green light. The usual story of some cops deciding to bust a carload of teenagers driving seven miles over the limit. The kids decided to outrun the law. The cops thought it'd be cool to engage in a high-speed chase down a major artery of a crowded urban zone. Of the three vehicles, one of the officers survived the crash, but only very briefly.
It was only when settling the estate that Miriam and I discovered how truly clever our parents had been. Dad had apparently been up to his neck in debts when he died. And Mom had performed an incredible juggling act for five years.
Miriam took her half and paid off some student loans and then financed a move to the coast. She swore she would never come back, and she never did. She quickly worked her way up into some sort of position that involved scripts and television and making tons of money.
I rented a separate studio and did nothing but paint for two years. It was a great time, but I never made a dime, and then I had to move all my work and supplies into my dinky apartment and go out and scare up this dumb job of mine. I made a fair stab at keeping up the good work for awhile, but gradually the tubes of paint and I became one of a kind--crumpled and dried up and worthless.
I made a sandwich for dinner, ate it, and then made a decision. Me, making a decision, that was always a rather frightening combination. I went and checked the calendar, confirming that Christmas fell on a Thursday. Then I called around until I found a travel agency still open. Luck was with me. I was able to book a seat flying out when most of the rest of the world would be either bright-eyed or sleepy- eyed, surrounded by storms of shredded bits of bright paper. A Sunday flight back midday. I wasn't sure what I'd do about Friday. It wasn't a holiday for me. The business of cheating customers rarely takes a day off. I thought I had a vacation day still available. If the boss didn't like that, well, I could always call in sick long distance. And if they fired me over that, I would hardly experience a reduction in income if I took on a stint waiting tables.
After she'd fled, Miriam and I had by unspoken agreement given up the sad pretense of gift-giving. But really, I did want to take her something if I was going out there. I sat paralyzed for half an hour thinking of what stupid piece of shit I could possibly go out and buy her. As if my small funds could possibly buy her something meaningful. I knew what she might possibly appreciate. There was another half hour spent flipping through old canvases. As if I could wrap one in brown paper, attach a handle, and call it my carry-on briefcase.
I hit the fridge for a beer. Then I flipped through a packet of snapshots of herself she'd recently sent. I hardly needed to know what she looked like. The second beer sent me rustling through the mausoleum of my old supplies. Some good paper, crayons, a stub of 6B pencil, a few tubes of gouache still alive. A sturdy board to work on. I turned on my tinny little stereo, and started out with some obscure Hank Williams. The old magic started working immediately. Several hours later I finished up to black-box bootleg Joy Division demos. A wild fucking marvelous portrait of Miriam.
The phone rang. It was my alleged girlfriend. Apparently her plans had panned out. She was wondering if I would like to come over.
I was feeling fairly cocky from fermented-grain. "I thought your hair was wet or something."
"It is," she cooed, "but I'm not talking about the top-of-my-head kind."
"Oh yea?" I feigned excitement. "Then why don't you just bend down and lick your own goddamn pussy for a change."
Click. Hey, it was my click!
The intervening period before my departure rushed by in the usual dull blur of my accustomed drudgery. My god, I thought, my life, I thought. For the first time I had a glimpse of how weeks like this could suddenly become decades like this. I was still in the beer-and- burger-for- lunch stage; I'd have to get cracking if I was going to one- up dear old Dad. If my life was going to amount to nothing but a bunch more of this, then for damn sure I wanted to drop dead before I hit fifty.
I left a message on Miriam's machine telling her my itinerary. She left a message on mine saying she'd have me fetched from the airport. I left a message on hers: don't be silly, I'll be able to find my way to your house. She left a message: don't be silly, no you won't.
Right as I was about to call and leave her another message I happened to glance at the clock. Whoa, shit, I had about two minutes to race up the block to catch the bus downtown, where I would transfer for the bus out to the airport.
I began to get a little nervous on the plane when I found a to-scale drawing of Miriam's airport at the back of the in-flight magazine. It appeared to be bigger than my whole city. I knew I had enough cash in my wallet to take a taxi to any point in my city, but I'd heard about those big city cabs. They'd drive you around for twenty-five years, and then you'd have to take out a second mortgage to pay off the fare. Shit, I lived in a dinky rental! We were talking pounds of flesh. I decided I'd be much better off taking the bus.
But the thing was, once I'd gotten off the plane, I couldn't find the bus. I began to ask people if they could direct me to the bus. There seemed to be a high incidence of deaf people in the terminal. Some people just gazed at me with pity. Some just laughed and walked away. Several people responded, "Bus? What's a bus?"
It turned out there were tons of buses, buses twice the size of any bus I'd ever seen. But they all went directly to various hotels, or car rental lots, or in a circuit between the various terminals. It transpired that there was in fact a sort of city bus that went on an express route to something called the City Centre Station. It cost more than a taxi in my town, and it let you off at this place, if I was reading my map correctly, about 200 miles from Miriam's house.
I sat down on a bench feeling defeated, and about ten times as stupid as I normally allow. I'd meant to bring Miriam's phone number with me, but I'd forgotten. My ears rang with the laughing comment she'd once made about how being the directory assistance operator in her city was the easiest job there was. There was only one residential number open to the public, and it rang in the empty house of a man long dead. The punchline being that the family maintained the listing as a sort of memorial.
I decided to become familiar with my bench. I could see out the window how the sky was darkening into night. My bench my bed. I was so frazzled from my travels that I began to hallucinate. I kept hearing someone calling my name. It became a regular chant that was certain to haunt my dreams. Then I looked up and saw the voice belonged to a particular man. He was dressed like the skipper of a ship, except all in black. The weirdest thing was that he was carrying a large placard in front of him. Instead of announcing the imminent end of the world, it bore my name.
"Hey," I asked, "are you trying to find me?"
"Yes!" he gave a long sigh, his shoulders sagging, "at last."
He quickly hustled me outside and into the back of this incredibly long car. "Hot damn!" I cried as he moved to shut the door, "is this a limo or something?" The man shook his head and shut the door.
It was a confusing ride. I felt like I was at a party. I was obviously sitting in a livingroom. There was a t.v. and a bar and other things I couldn't quite figure out. But no matter how hard I looked I couldn't locate the host or any other guests. I fell asleep for awhile, and then the ride was over. The man opened the door and I got out. Before I could ask him any more questions he was back in the car and driving away.
There I was, standing in front of a large house. All the lights were on and there was lots of noise within. I went up the walk and rang the bell. The door was opened by some man who looked at me as though I was pond scum. Chagrined, I asked, "Does Miriam live here?"
He rolled his eyes, then called over his shoulder, "Miriam! Something for you that just crawled in from the sticks!"
And then there she was, sweeping down a long hallway, trailing some curious looks as she pushed my name loudly in front of her. "Samuel!!! I thought you'd never get here! So-o-o wonderful to see you. Have a decent flight? did the driver find you okay? are you hungry? do you need something to drink? oh here, come on, let's take your bag up to your room, let you get refreshed and tell me all about it!"
Miriam had always had a vivacious streak, but my memories were of a dull waif compared to this bubbling creature. It was the differing between a gentle simmer and a roiling boil. Maybe it was the climate. Or maybe, implausible as it seemed, she was that excited to see me.
She fairly dragged me up a staircase to the second story, leaving the din down below. She made up for the lowered volume by continuing her incessant patter. So many words, tumbling out so fast, I couldn't understand anything she was saying.
"Whoa, calm down girl! Are you excited to see me or something?"
"Yes!!!" she glimmered, "Why, does it show?" Then she gave a demure half-turn. "And, well, to be frank, a trifle nervous as well."
"Of course," she said, adding quietly, "It's been a long time, you know."
"You're right," I assented, "I guess I'm a bit nervous, too. But I've had the travails of travel to keep my mind from it. Gosh I'm glad to be here! You look absolutely stunning. Can't say it looks like life out here doesn't agree with you."
"Now, that silly dance done with, c'mere ya big lug and gimme a hug!"
Miriam pressed herself tightly against me. She had never been one for perfumes, and that hadn't changed. My olfactory receptors were flooded with the clean fresh scent of her, with just a slight flowery overlay of shampoo. She nuzzled against my neck, her breath shallow and hot. I started worrying about how I could feel her breasts firmly against my chest, but then I decided I shouldn't be the one to have to worry about that. I did quickly remind my body just who it was that I was holding in my arms.
"So," I murmured, "what's going on downstairs? I realize it's not my surprise party, except as a party that has me a little surprised."
"Oh that," she sighed in exasperation. "Apparently sometime last summer I opened my big mouth and told all my friends, Hey, let's have the annual Christmas Night bash at my place! It slipped my mind until last week when all these people started calling up asking what time it started. I tried to beg off, but they wouldn't let me!"
Miriam stood back, then leaned in again kissing me fully on the lips. I didn't recall her being such a demonstrative person. Maybe it was a geographical thing.
"So, sorry. Wish it could have been just the two of us tonight. But it won't be so bad. I'll introduce you around. Never know, you might meet someone interesting. There's a bevy of smart beautiful women downstairs."
Miriam's look was pinched and withdrawn, well at odds with the jolliness of her final remark. I concluded that this was pretty natural. A little luckiness in the love department would sort of cramp my visit.
"Well, you know watery old me. I always seek my own level. So I guess it'll be another lonely night for me. Unless you've a particularly dumb and ugly special someone tucked away somewhere."
That made her smile. She jabbed me in the chest. "Oh, you! Didn't Santa finally bring you some self-confidence? Or a mirror? Anyway. Listen, why don't you grab a quick shower if you want--fully stocked private bath," she pointed with her head, "get a change of clothes, have a little snooze, whatever, and then I'll see you back downstairs in a little bit, okay?"
"Sounds like a plan," I chirped.
Miriam grabbed my hand in hers and squeezed it tight, her thumb rubbing my palm. Then she leaned up and gave me a quick kiss, again on the lips, "Alright then." She breezed out of the room with a wave and then she was gone.
I did lay down for about twenty minutes, long enough for a nap. But I was too wired to sleep. So I switched tactics and went for the quick shower and clean clothes. The shower was actually exceedingly long. I kept waiting for the hot water to run out, but it never did. I didn't want to bother rummaging through my luggage. My clothes I figured were clean enough.
It was nearly an hour before I made it back downstairs. I couldn't locate Miriam immediately, and then my search kept getting delayed. Everyone seemed to know exactly who I was. Women kept rushing up all excited, casting me soulful looks while touching my arms. The men forced my right hand into these crushingly competitive shakes while leering nearly bitterly at me. The bizarre thing was that they all used the same phrase. Apparently I was Miriam's "old friend from back east." I wasn't up for the explanations a contradiction would require.
Finally I found Miriam in the kitchen. I cornered her and whispered furiously, "Just who is this person? What's this old friend from back east shit anyway!" I instantly regretted the force of my attack.
She looked at me nearly cringing. "I'm sorry, it's just, well... Look Samuel, you know, when I moved out here I was creating a new life for myself. I started from scratch. I made my history a big blank. I'm an orphan, you know? I, like, grew up in foster homes. I have no family. I mean, that's the fiction. I didn't mean to hurt you. You know you're the dearest person in my life. I love you madly! You want to see the proof? Over there on that counter, there's this month's phone bill."
"That's not it. I'm just saying, why didn't you give me a little notice or something. This is your life, make it the way you want it. That's fine with me. But clue me in on the script changes, okay? I think it's Enter: the brother. Suddenly instead I'm the long-lost friend. And I walk through those rooms and a couple those guys in there are giving me looks like Oh yea? So friend, how many times you poked her since you arrived? Haw haw, haw haw!"
"Oh, don't mind them. They're just jealous," she quipped.
"Of what?!!" I shot back incredulously. If I thought my ears were malfunctioning, it was nothing compared to my eyes. Miriam was in a deep blush.
"Well," she whined, "I'm sorry, but I thought you'd get mad at me if I said something about it in advance."
"Mad? Oh Miriam, when have I ever been mad at you?"
She fell into a contemplative silence, then answered. "When I pried off all the wheels from your favorite race car when you were about ten."
I was so surprised all I could do was snort.
"But you had no right to be mad," she continued, "because I only did that because you melted my Barbie's feet into big black clumps."
"Why you unappreciative bitch you! That was corrective surgery. I was trying to make it so she could stand up without leaning against something. Oh well, story of my life. Me and all my best intentions."
This was fun! But then Miriam's big grin collapsed into a much more thoughtful repose. "Weren't you mad at me when I left?"
I was taken aback. "Mad? Oh, Miriam. Sure, there was some anger in it all. A couple spoonfuls in a great big steaming cauldron of disparate emotions. That was a bad time for the both of us. I certainly understood why you had to leave. I felt as if I was standing on a stack of rugs--every time I stood up the next one was yanked out and back on my ass I went. Losing you too was like having my heart cut out, but you know, by that point is was a pulpy mangled mess anyway."
"Oh Sammy, stop! You're breaking my heart!" she sniffled, turning away.
"Oh no," I cried, "that's the opposite of what I want! Stop indeed, yes. I truly don't want to talk about all that. Sorry, I didn't mean to get into it." I went over to her and put my hands on her shoulders and gave her a little shake. "Hey, come on, okay? Alright?" I gave her a playful little swat on the behind. "What are you trying to do? Get the reputation as the worst hostess in the state? You have a party out there to attend to. Time to circulate!"
Miriam turned with a weak smile. "Right you are. Okay. Thanks. And sorry." She gave my shirt a little tug, then stroked the back of my hand, lightly gripping my fingers to tow me along towards the door.
"Besides," I added without thinking, "much longer and those guys will be staring even more. What? Had her again in the kitchen?"
She whipped around and threw me a cool level gaze. "Let them!"
Hours and hours straggled by. I rarely caught but much more than glimpses of Miriam. I started to get peeved that she was having this largish party that had nothing to do with me on one of the three nights of my visit, but then I'd catch myself, remembering that I had come on pretty short notice. But then I would remember that that circumstance was actually the result of her invitation. So I'd start getting irritated again, then calm myself considering that the party had been already planned when I'd decided to visit, though actually... between a few drinks and the time change and the fatigue of traveling, my thought processes were growing terribly confused.
The party wasn't completely segregated by the sexes, but there was a definite element of that. I started out settling in the den with the guys, mostly because it was the most comfortable room. A bunch of plush low-slung couches and chairs. But all the guys were sitting around in that wide-kneed posture as though advertising that they had such huge packages mounted between their legs their thighs hadn't touched since the day they slid down the birth canal. And there didn't seem to be any real conversation going on. They took turns grasping their inner thighs and honking, "Haw haw, haw haw." Anytime a woman made the mistake of entering the room, she was greeted with silence. You could smell the flush of testosterone. She would leave, the silence would linger, then one of the more clever among them would clamp hand to leg, "Yea, pussy! Haw haw, haw haw." I lasted about ten minutes in that room. I strayed out of sight but within earshot. There was a remark--either I was a wussy, or going for more pussy--and then the room erupted in a chorus of haw-haws.
I spent an hour mingling between the livingroom and diningroom, where sensible members of all persuasions were gathered. But eventually I confessed to myself that I was too tired to attempt intelligent conversation with smart people about subjects of which I was uninterested and uninformed. Everyone in the house seemed to make their livelihood from television, or movies, or made-for-t.v.-movies. I didn't even own a set, and the few times I'd gone to the movies in recent years, it was to see a film made on the other side of the planet from Hollywood.
I broke for the screened-in patio figuring I would be mostly alone out there. It was silent when I stepped through the doorway. Nearly a dozen women were seated and staring at me. I could smell the rise of a different hormone. I knew if I turned tail someone would quickly interject, "Yea, cock! Hee hee, hee hee." So I sat down instead.
What was truly weird was to realize that I wasn't perceived as any sort of gross male threat, because of course after that interlude in the kitchen Miriam would have been sure to have milked every last drop from my balls. Though that was strictly conjecture, and no one could know that for sure.
I wound up engrossed in a conversation with the woman seated next to me. I kept forgetting her name from one minute to the next, but she was somehow involved in casting. My end involved just a clever quip every so often--which the entire room managed to hear, and appreciate. Pretty soon I was the star in about a million movies, replacing every hunk from Humphrey Bogart to Brad Pitt. My parts grew evermore salacious. "Remember that scene when he throws her down on the bed?... I know you'd have been just perfect!" Her hands were like butterflies, briefly landing all over me and then fluttering away. She'd slipped off her shoes, the better to rub her stockinged feet along my calves for emphases. We were playing with each other, not that if the room had been empty, with a bed across the way, we wouldn't have quickly hopped to it. In the abstract, anyway. She was pretty and smart and tipsy enough to think she was horny. I didn't really ever do things like that. I wasn't going to abandon or impinge on my sister's hospitality, simply because that wasn't in my character.
Another advantage of being out on the patio was that I saw Miriam more often. She never stayed long, though, just darting in and out. One of the other women tried to engage her, "Miriam, hon, what's up? You seem a little out-of-sorts tonight."
"That's because I am," she'd replied tersely. Period. No maneuvering room for explications.
Eventually I excused myself to go use the bathroom. My bladder was my motive. But the one off the hall was in use, so I climbed the stairs to the second story. The guest room I was occupying had its own facilities. The first thing I saw after I peed and washed hands was that great big bed with my baggage set aside it. I could not resist. I collapsed for a very late nap, well aware that the night might pass into a brand new day before I awoke.
Something eventually startled me. My eyes opened and I lay there very still. I took me about five minutes to realize that the quality of the light coming in the door from the hall had shifted from when I fell asleep. It was, I finally decided, being somehow blocked. I rolled over and saw someone standing in the doorway. Someone who had been standing in the doorway for at least those five minutes. Little wonder I'd felt so unnerved.
I was dreading just about every possibility I could imagine when the figure spoke. "You awake now, Sam?"
"Yes? Who did you think it was?"
"I didn't know. And I was afraid to ask."
She chuckled softly. "Oh, don't worry. Everyone downstairs knows that my upstairs is always off-limits, even in the pursuit of pleasure."
"Mir, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure," she replied, walking in the room to come sit on the edge of the bed.
"Just who are all those people? Most of them you don't seem to much care for. You don't really call them friends, do you?"
"Oh, they're friends. Friends by association. Friendly associates. Maybe not really friends. Not most of them. Not in the sense of sharing secrets and intimate moments. We share ideas and projects. The business and social lives are completely contiguous around here. One overlays the other. You share work on a script, you share laughs at the cuts, you share dinner, you invite each other over for drinks. You schmooze. That's how things work."
"What?!! You mean I've been trapped all night at someone else's office Christmas party?!"
"You seemed to be enjoying Jasmine's company," she replied gently. "She's still down there. Wandering around lost asking after you. You should go home with her, if you want to. Or feel free to invite her to stay overnight."
"No wonder I couldn't remember her name. Jasmine. Well, Ms. Tea is an intriguing person, and lovely in her own right, but, well, that's really never been my style. I'm," I shrugged, "I've never been interested in sex with strangers. I'm sure she'd be a world of fun in bed but, really, send her my fond regrets. I don't want to sleep with someone unless I know I'll get to keep on sleeping with them, and sleeping with them, and sleeping with them."
Miriam turned and muttered a word under her breath. Then she commanded aloud, "Come back down, sleepy head. You've had your beauty rest. I have a fleet of taxis on the way. I promise Jasmine will be the first to go."
"Okay," I drew up on an elbow.
I'd heard the quiet word. It was good.
It took me ten minutes to rouse myself fully enough to make it downstairs. Though I dreaded it, I was fully prepared to pitch in on the clean up. I was a firm believer in getting most of the mess out of the way before morning. What looked like the remains of a party at night tended to resemble an eerie scene of slaughter in the daylight.
I was surprised by Miriam's efficiency. Most of the waste was already cleared from many of the rooms, and I could hear the dishwasher chugging away. This was the workings of an impolite hostess. The crowd had thinned considerably, but not to the point where the remaining few would be considering themselves the lone survivors of the party's last gasp. Chatting about the party in the past tense, finishing up the last drinks, helping the hostess clean up. Miriam's message was as unmistakable as when the staff in a restaurant start putting all the rest of the chairs up on the tables. She was the bartender turning on the unkind overhead lights.
I saw her go into the den, then heard one of the guys actually form a couple of sentences. "Hey Miriam, great party, haw haw. But where've you been keeping yourself? Haven't seen you all night, haw haw."
The answer was obvious. He'd spent the evening there in the locker room, and she hadn't set foot in there since about seven o'clock. Instead she gave a curt lie in reply, "I got tired. I had to go upstairs and lie down for awhile."
"Oh yea, you should have told me. I would have been delighted to tuck you in."
Such an opening was so obvious, even he seemed bored by his reply. I was clearly in the room, removing bottles from an endtable. I was doing the trick of sticking my fingers firmly down the necks, transporting ten bottles at once, while acquiring hands that transformed me into a scary alien being.
"But I hardly required the assistance, now, did I?"
I knew I was looking a bit bed-rumpled myself, and judging by the looks the last of the guys were giving me, it was noticeably so.
When I came back for my next load, a different guy was asking her, "What? You kicking us out now, Miriam?"
"You got it. I'm feeling pretty tired again."
The guy-eyes were again upon me. Whoa, her friend must be some sort of fucking Superman, haw haw!
I was getting pretty tired myself. I decided to do duty out on the patio instead. Three of the old crowd were still out there. One brightened when she saw me, but in the way of an overcast day when the clouds shift to a slightly lighter layering.
"Hello Samuel! Hee hee."
I barely waved.
"Where's Jasmine?" she asked weakly.
I shrugged. "I don't know. Gone home I guess."
She pretended to perk up at the news. "Oh really?" I could see that she was trying out a number of clever lines, but it was too much of a struggle, they were all strings of jumbled words. She settled instead on shooting me what she obviously thought was the sexiest look in her repertoire. In other circumstances, it probably was a notably effective pose. But numbed by alcohol--there was a forest of glasses on the coffee table in front of her--it came out more like a cross between a smirk and a notice of impending sickness.
I turned my back and began clearing glasses from another table. "Not too rush you all, but I thought I'd give you fair warning. The carnivores are about to be let loose from the den. They're hungry and they're licking their chops. So if you want a head-start, now's your last chance."
There was silence, then one of the women picked up on my meaning. "Oh shit, girls, let's get the hell out of here! hee hee."
Somebody tweaked my ass on the way out. I didn't bother turning to see who.
I was greatly pleased and relieved to discover that their departure left the house empty. The interesting, and not altogether surprising, turn of events was that the patio girls and the den boys wound up exiting at the same time. Outside, amid the clamor of slamming doors, the haw- haws and hee-hees were undeniably interacting.
Miriam remarked, "I should have turned both lots of them loose upstairs from the beginning."
I rolled my eyes. "But then, right about now, we'd be burning all the bedding."
She laughed heartily.
"Or worse," I continued, "getting a jump on preparing the breakfast spread. Can you imagine waking up in the morning and having to see all them?"
"God, Sam, stop it! You're going to give me nightmares."
I just stood there grinning.
"Ah," she reached over and pinched my cheek, "that big goofy grin. Forever your trademark, smart-ass! Listen, I'm going to change out of these party clothes. Care to meet me in the livingroom in a few minutes for a nightcap?"
I waited for Miriam to climb the stairs, then I snuck up to my room. I got the painting out of my suitcase. I'd matted it and framed it, wrapped it in holiday tissue, then tied it between two pieces of stiff cardboard. While up there I decided to change into my sleepwear--an oversized lavender t-shirt and a pair of blue and purple paisley boxer shorts.
After a few minutes waiting in the livingroom dressed like that I started feeling chilly. There was a small supply of wood contained in a wrought iron holder that was likely mostly ornamental, but I went ahead and messed with the damper, found some matches, and soon had a wonderfully warming blaze going in the fireplace.
When Miriam reentered the room, her face took on a glow from within. "Well how nice!" She held a pair of wine glasses in one hand, upturned, stems between her fingers. Her other hand displayed a freshly uncorked bottle. "Here comes the good stuff," she smiled.
I wasn't much of a wine drinker, but I recognized the label. Boujeaulais Nouveau. I was crazy about that stuff. It was like beef. I didn't eat much steak anymore, mostly because I'd been spoiled by a few run-ins with some particularly delicious filet mignon. I'd read that this year's crop was the best in decades. Good news travels fast as an understatement. Naturally I hadn't found a store that wasn't sold-out.
"Mir, where did you get this?"
"Oh," she gave a smug little wriggle, "I have my sources!"
We made a nest of floor pillows in front of the hearth and settled on in. I idly fingered the hem of her robe, then fell into my tailor imitation, "Nice fabric."
She smiled, "Isn't it though? I live in it, when modesty isn't a concern."
It was a beautifully printed kimono, though it wasn't really a kimono because it barely fell to mid-thigh. But otherwise it was patterned as such, and the reason I'd reached out for the hem was that the material was so obviously silk. Fine silk. Silk so fine it screamed out Touch me, feel how smooth and soft I am! A matching remark about her skin screamed at me. I brushed it aside, a little shaken. The cut of the garment wasn't particularly risqué, but I could see her point. Not exactly what you'd wear around when you had a bunch of louts in your den. I firmly reestablished the line that divided me from men like them.
"So," I ventured, "you throw a party and invite a bunch of people, but none of them do you consider friends. What gives?"